Metamusings on Life, Business, Data February 2014

MetamusingMany of you who know me know that I’m an avid runner. And, although I pride myself in being ahead-of-the-curve with information technology, I’ve never been a fan of running with electronics and this is why.

I was given one of those fancy running watches that shows you time/distance/pace/heart rate, etc. and I thought I’d give it a try to see if it would help me pick up my pace and run a little faster for a race I was training for.  A few minutes into my run, I looked down and saw a 7:21 minute mile pace. For me, that’s fast. Feeling like a superhero, I picked up my pace and went a little faster.

I looked down again to see 8:01. “See?” I thought, “This is why I don’t use electronics–if I had just kept on with my natural flow, all would have been fine. Now I’m overthinking it, and slowing down.” So I ran a little faster.

… Next check showed 9:21.

Then 10:00. “Stupid watch’s calibration must be off–I couldn’t be slowing down THIS much!”

…11:15…

At 12:00, I realized that I had it set to TIMER, not PACE.  This is why electronics and I don’t get along.  (Note: My actual pace will remain undisclosed–suffice it to say it was somewhere safely between 7 and 12.)

In today’s technology-laden world, many of us have a similar love-hate relationship with technology, both at work and at home.  In both instances, knowing when to use technology wisely is critical.  With the rapid rate of change in today’s IT environment, it’s hard to keep track of all of the new technologies out there and to know which is the right fit for your organization.  It’s easy to relate to today’s teenager, with the peer pressure to have the latest phone or device. In data management you may be thinking to yourself “All of the cool kids are using Hadoop.  Will I be left out if I stick with Oracle?”

As with any decision, it’s important to separate the industry buzz and hype from your true needs and requirements.  Here are some guidelines I’ve found helpful.Some bad reasons to choose data management technology:

  • It’s cool.  A strength of the IT industry its ability to innovate and change quickly. But the flip side of that is an overabundance of buzzwords-du-jour and product hype.  Although it’s easy to feel like you’ll be left behind if you don’t adopt the latest trend, it’s important to make a list of your business requirements first, and match your technology decisions to them, rather than the other way around, which is too often the case.  Take the example of Big Data, the latest hot trend.  There are many valid use cases for Big Data implementations such as customer sentiment analysis, click-stream data analysis, etc.  But if you’re looking for a report of customer sales by region, a traditional data warehouse is still good, tried-and-true technology for that.  A favorite case study of mine is Facebook, one of the founders of Big Data technology, who announced their plans to build a traditional data warehouse at the TDWI conference last year.  I highly recommend viewing the replay of Facebook’s Ken Rudin’s TDWI session, which can be found here.  In it, he discusses the need to truly assess the best fit technology for each use case, which for his company was a healthy mix of both Big Data and relational database technologies.

  • My boss asked for it.  This reason is highly correlated with the one above.  Too often, a manager, hearing about a latest trend, asks you about implementing it in your organization.  But remember, it’s your job to truly evaluate the best technology for your boss and give him or her the best answer based on research. Remember to separate a question from a command.  I’ve too often seen a team run to implement “technology x” because the boss asked about it, when it truly was a question, not a directive. Educate both yourself and your boss before you choose a technology.

  • I already know it.  This reason is the flip side of the two listed above.  Too often, as they say, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”  Many of us in the data management industry have been working with relational technologies, for example, for years. It’s easy to want to stay in your comfort zone, and dismiss new technologies such as Big Data as a passing trend. But it’s important to keep your skills current and make sure you’re making the best technology decision based on the technology’s strengths, not your current skills.
Some good reasons to choose data management technology:

  • It promotes efficiency & reuse.  Does this technology “play nicely with others”?  Can it integrate with existing best practices and technology, rather than forcing a “rip and replace”?  Does it provide a central repository where data assets from diverse technologies can be stored in a common metamodel or can it integrate with one?
  • It meets our organization’s business requirements.  This may seem obvious, but as mentioned above, it’s often forgotten in the quest to implement a new, hot trend.  Start with your own checklist of requirements before you talk a vendor—most vendors have their own checklists suited to their technologies, so starting with your own list of needs first can help you sort through the hype.
  • It’s easy to use.  OK, this might sound confusingly similar to the “I already know it” excuse listed above, but it’s important to choose a product that’s not only feature-rich, but with features that are easy to quickly understand and implement.  This is an area where the teenaged smartphone users are forcing enterprise software companies to re-think their user interfaces.  “Keep it simple” should be a mantra for even the most sophisticated software products.
While none of these reasons is rocket-science, they are important guidelines to step back and consider as you begin your more complex technical analysis.  And they are helpful in both daily life as well as business.  I, for one, proudly still use Post-It notes at my desk for key reminders.

I could implement a more advanced scheduling or task management software, but when I really just need to remember to buy eggs, a Post-It note is the right level of technology for the job.  And I happily now run gadget-free, which might not be a good decision if I were training for the Olympics, but is a fine decision for a Sunday jog.

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About Donna Burbank

Donna Burbank, is a recognized industry expert in information management with over 20 years of experience in data management and enterprise architecture. She currently is the Managing Director of Global Data Strategy Ltd, an international data management consulting company. Her background is multi-faceted across consulting, product development, product management, brand strategy, marketing, and business leadership in organizations such as CA Technologies, Embarcadero Technologies, and PLATINUM Technologies. She has worked with dozens of Fortune 500 companies worldwide in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa and speaks regularly at industry conferences. She has co-authored two books: Data Modeling for the Business and Data Modeling Made Simple with CA ERwin Data Modeler r8. She can be reached at donna.burbank@globaldatastrategy.com and you can follow her on Twitter @donnaburbank.

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